12/28/2021 | By Amy Dickinson

Advice columnist Amy Dickinson addresses the ethics of responding to organizations that send unsolicited “gifts.”

Dear Amy:

Is it unethical to use things which are mailed to me in hopes that I will donate money to the organization, when I don’t respond with a donation? (I’m talking about things like Christmas cards and address labels.)

Some of the organizations I have received these things from are those I’ve donated to in the past. But I did not want and did not request these cards.

Can I still send them out to family and friends without paying for them? I feel funny doing that, especially when it’s a religious organization.

Requests this year have tripled. It is obvious that my contact information has been shared with numerous organizations.

I will often request that my name be removed from these mailing lists, asking them not to share it. I’ve only had one organization contact me back that they will do so.

What are your thoughts?

Fear of Being a Freeloader

Amy’s response re. organizations that send unsolicited “gifts”

Dear Fear:

You have the right to use these things that are sent to you by organizations hoping to solicit a donation.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, these items are quite literally (and redundantly) “free gifts.” Even if you didn’t solicit or order these gifts, when they are sent to you, they belong to you.

Related: 7 common scams targeting seniors

Your guilt over using them “without paying for them” means that these campaigns work! But understand that if you use them (without donating), any recipient you send them to may also notice what organization generates these cards and address labels, essentially increasing their marketing reach. [This can ease your question of ethics for those organizations you want to support.]

I donate any unsolicited cards to my local library’s book sale, which sells them to raise money for literacy in my community. Facilities for elders will also take these donated cards for residents to use.

To eliminate these unsolicited “gifts,” contact individual charities, asking to be removed from their list and/or requesting that they not share your information.

You can also use the online registry form on to cut down on the amount of direct mail you receive. There is a $2 processing fee.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from the ethics of responding – or not – to organizations that send unsolicited “gifts,” to DNA surprises. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

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